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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“A Dance of Blades” by David Dalglish (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “A Dance of BladesHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE (PDF)
Read FBC’s Review of “A Dance of Cloaks
Read FBC’s Interview with David Dalglish

AUTHOR INFORMATION: David Dalglish graduated from Missouri Southern State University with a degree in Mathematics. He is the author of the popular Half Orcs fantasy series which includes The Weight of Blood, The Cost of Betrayal, The Death of Promises, The Shadows of Grace and A Sliver of Redemption. He is currently writing the Shadowdance Trilogy and The Paladins series.

PLOT SUMMARY: Veldaren aches for a purge, and I will be the one to deliver it. Cry out at me if you wish, but it will change nothing. The gold is spent, the orders are given. Let the blood flow.

It's been five years since Haern faked his death to escape the tyranny of his father. He has become the Watcher, a vicious killer who knows no limits, and whose hatred of the thief guilds is unrivaled. But when the son of Alyssa Gemcroft, one of the three leaders of the powerful Trifect, is believed murdered, the slaughter begins anew. Mercenaries flood the streets, with one goal in mind: find and kill the Watcher.

Peace or destruction—every war must have its end...

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a world where there are multiple factions at work, the Shadowdance Trilogy is a dark, gritty, character-driven fantasy series in the vein of George R.R. Martin, Brent Weeks and Peter V. Brett.

FORMAT/INFO: A Dance of Blades is 348 pages divided over thirty numbered chapters and an Epilogue. Narration is in the third person via several different point-of-views, both major and supporting characters, including the main protagonist Haern the Watcher, Alyssa Gemcroft, Veliana, Deathmask, Nathaniel Gemcroft, Arthur Hadfield, Oric, Ghost, etc. A Dance of Blades is self-contained, but is the second volume in the Shadowdance Trilogy after A Dance of Cloaks. The trilogy itself is set in the same world as The Half-Orcs, but before the events of that series with mild and major spoilers contained within.

April 2011 marked the independent publication of A Dance of Blades in both Trader Paperback and E-book format. Cover art is provided by Peter Ortiz.

ANALYSIS: It’s been five years since the events shown in “A Dance of Cloaks”. The city of Veldaren is slowly recovering from the catastrophic night in which the Guilds decided to remove the Trifect from the equation. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned for Thren Felhorn because of the valor and dedication of a select few. Since then, the Guilds have fractured even further and now fight amongst themselves in an attempt to regain their earlier powers. The Trifect also suffers, but fare slightly better than their rivals. Complicating matters is a new edition to the city: the Watcher.

The Watcher is Haern, the son of the most famous and devious guildlord. Using his former training, Haern’s  goal is to sow dissent among the Guilds. Meanwhile, Alyssa Gemcroft, one of the leaders of the Trifect, has successfully taken over the Gemcroft estate and now has a son, Nathaniel, from her dalliance in the previous book. Serving Alyssa as her protector is Zusa, the ex-forsaken of Karak and a confidante to Veliana. Veliana’s mission to save the Ash guild was successful, but she is now subservient to the new Guild master. Readers are also introduced to Deathmask, a character from The Half Orcs series, while Lord Arthur Hadfield and Mark Tullen try to obtain Alyssa Gemcroft’s hand in marriage.

The heart of the story unfolds when Haern comes across a devious plot to kill the child Nathaniel. Haern intervenes, but with chaotic results. Word spreads that the child is missing, presumably dead, so Alyssa decides to finish off the Guilds and kill the Watcher, who she believes are the guilty parties behind her son’s death. From here, A Dance of Blades follows Haern as he battles the Guilds, the Trifect, and perhaps his greatest enemy, Ghost...

Compared to A Dance of Cloaks, the prose in A Dance of Blades is remarkably more polished and a major highlight of the book. Pacing is similar to the first novel, meaning non-stop action that reminded me of R.A. Salvatore and David Gemmell, but Dalglish has definitely turned up the excitement level. The story is more linear and streamlined than its predecessor, but there are still lots of machinations and subplots going on, while a deeper exploration of the world of Dezrel is provided. The grimness, which was so prevalent in the first book, has been toned down a bit, although plenty of killing can still be found in A Dance of Blades. Personally, I was glad for this as the author managed to surprise me a couple of times by killing off a certain character, while saving another. Thematically, salvation is a major theme, with many of the book’s characters seeking redemption, with both successful & unsucessful results.

Characterization remains top-notch giving readers a wide variety of characters to follow, including Haern with his psychological scars, Veliana with her toughness and never-say-die attitude, and Alyssa who now understands her father better than ever. What I love most about the characters is how they are all so unique and interesting, which is important in a book that features so many different POVs. Meanwhile, quite a few characters from The Half-Orcs series make an appearance in A Dance of Blades.

Negatively, Haern’s abilities and vigilante actions reminded me of Batman, which made some things in the book easy to predict. Also, because the Shadowdance Trilogy is a prequel to The Half-Orcs series, and features many of the same characters, those who have already finished the books know who will survive and who won’t. For me, this is the single biggest flaw in reading any prequel series, which is why I have purposefully held off from reading The Half-Orcs novels.

CONCLUSION: Overall, A Dance of Blades is an excellent sequel, further establishing Haern’s story, while showcasing David Dalglish’s impressive growth as a writer. So now, after having fully enjoyed the first two books in the Shadowdance Trilogy, I can’t wait to see how Haern’s saga ends in the third and final book, A Dance of Shadows...

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